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Volume 23 • Number 2

April 2009



Before Military Force, Nonviolent Action: An Application of a Generalized Just War Principle of Last Resort

by John W. Lango

Last Resort and Nonviolence
Traditionally, the just war principle of last resort requires that, before resorting to war, every reasonable alternative measure must be attempted. My view is that traditional just war principles should be generalized, so as to be applicable to military actions of all sorts—for example, armed humanitarian interventions and counterinsurgency operations. In this paper, such a generalized just war theory is presupposed. In particular, I shall presuppose a generalized last resort principle that requires that, before using military force, every reasonable alternative measure must be attempted. My thesis is that among these alternative measures is nonviolent action. For concreteness, the new U.S. counterinsurgency field manual is examined. The generalized last resort principle morally obligates a U.S. counterinsurgency operation to use the means of nonviolent action, whenever it is reasonable to do so. Pacifism and just war theory are often portrayed as rivals, but this paper explores one way in which just war theory could benefit from the tradition of nonviolence.

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ISSN: 2152-0542